Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity

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Followers of this blog know that I’ve been critical of the direction and implementation of U.S. development policy, and especially of the administration’s embrace of a w/hole-of-government approach that seems to be making things more confused rather than better.  In response, I often rightly get asked, “so what would work better?”  So, here it is, my radical idea for how to fix U.S. development policy, in a quick-fire 5-minute slidecast:

I think the slides offer a better explanation than a written paper, but here’s the idea in a nutshell:  U.S. development policy is wrought with problems (see Lael Brainard’s spaghetti bowl) that can be boiled down to three big ones:  (1) too many players, (2) too many objectives, and (3) no clarity on who leads and when.   Thus, my 3-step solution is to:

  1. Consolidate from 20+ departments, bureaus, and agencies involved in development to just seven.  Most programs should sensibly fall under a bolstered USAID.  All of the private sector tools would be merged into a new entity, the U.S. Development Bank, built around an expanded OPIC (more on that proposal and why it’s timely here).
  2. Prioritize objectives.  Brainard listed at least 50 aims of U.S. foreign assistance, but all of these could be merged to three overarching objectives: to (a) bolster security (b) support recovery in countries facing crisis or extreme poverty, and (c) promote economic opportunity    and growth.
  3. Clarify who leads and when.  A clean interagency process would have the NSC designate a lead agency for each country strategy or major initiative based on the primary objective. Thus in a security-priority situation (such as Yemen or counterterrorism) State would be the lead, with the other agencies playing a supporting role. In Malawi, Haiti, or the global food security initiative, USAID would be driving the strategy and take the lead. However, in the next wave of emerging markets (Ghana, Vietnam, Costa Rica) where investment and growth are the priority, or for initiatives like a big push on African infrastructure, the new USDB would take the interagency lead.

Any such proposal will have unresolved tensions and tradeoffs—indeed, managing those is what policymaking is all about.  But if the USG wants an ambitious development policy, these three steps may offer a better way than the current confusion—or the wishful thinking that the current scrambled mess can work if we all just play nice.

Thanks to super-RA Steph Majerowicz and media whiz Will McKitterick for putting together the slides and video!